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Faux wood panelling; Rodarte;, photography by Autumn de Wilde

The childhood inspirations behind Rodarte

From the sci-fi of Star Wars and E.T. to California's Death Valley, the Mulleavy duo reveal the childhood obsessions behind their collections

Few designers draw from their childhood memories to fuel their creative vision as much as Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, if only to twist it into something unexpected and alien. At their most potent, they take you on a road trip that’s personal, strange and endlessly fascinating. For a glimpse into their inner workings, we dive into their childhood memories with them.


For AW14, a nostalgia for childhood saw them unleash their inner geek with sparkly lurex coats and beret-and-spectacles combos, culminating in a series of five couture gowns printed with iconic characters from Star Wars – Luke Skywalker, Yoda, R2D2, C3PO and the Death Star. Say the designers, “They are the only films that we can never remember not having seen, and in many ways, they seem to have become a part of who we are. In a broader sense, they have melded with the collective conscious of our cultural DNA.”


Rodarte’s stints as costume designers (for Black Swan and Frank Gehry’s production of Don Giovanni) led to their most fantastical collection yet for SS13, in which they created couture-like body armour and collages of guipure and jacquard with metal cages.


“Our work is about the limitless possibilities of youth and how our imagination transformed our backyard into a great adventure,” they tell us, so it's no wonder Steven Spielberg’s alien classic is a touchstone for them. As a classic portrait of childhood, E.T. is a sci-fi adventure that captures that pivotal moment in youth when the world is a place of mysterious possibilities. 


Horror films remain an enduring fascination for the Mulleavys – Japanese horror films inspired their early work and Joel Schumacher’s seminal teen vampire flick, The Lost Boys is stamped all over the AW13 collection. “It’s one of our favourite movies of all time,” they enthused to 


Kate and Laura grew up in Santa Cruz, inspired by its ‘weird vibes’ and the cast of skaters, goths and bikers that inhabit it. They paid tribute to them in the AW13 collection of tasseled leather jackets, bodysuits and tie-dyed dresses, saying simply that, "We always knew we'd do a collection about where we grew up."


No matter how out-there some of their inspirations prove to be, the Mulleavys’ skill is in grounding the fantasy in something more real. Case in point was their SS11 collection, where Northern California led to a meditation on "every shade of brown you can imagine, seventies suburbia, wood paneling, gold – basically, a combination of all the things that represent the area to us”, which in turn saw a shift away from their deconstructed, floaty creations towards a more built-up look.


The burnt, shredded, ashen fabrics of Rodarte’s powerful SS10 show were inspired by a trip to Death Valley. 


The Rodarte woman is a complex creature – at times ethereal and delicate, strong and powerful at the next turn. None more so than in the SS10 collection where they summoned up a mythical woman emerging victorious.


Living in LA, the Mulleavys are part of a rich community of creatives seemingly crossing between disciplines with ease. Amongst artists like John Baldessari, filmmakers such as Miranda July, actors who double as muses (Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Natalie Portman among them), they count the ultimate front-woman, Kim Gordon as an idol, frequently collaborating with her on projects and shoots. She returns the favour with an exclusive playlist for Dazed.